Michael J. Malone
Douglas County Law Library

Judicial and Law Enforcement Center
111 East 11th Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Phone: (785) 838-2477
Fax: (785) 838-2455

This Month in Legal History Archive

This page contains archived entries from the current year's "This Month in Legal History" column and links to the archived entries from previous years. The column features a different event from the history of law and jurisprudence of Douglas County, Kansas, that occurred during the month. It is published monthly in the Michael J. Malone Douglas County Law Library E-Mail Newsletter and on the This Month In Legal History page of this website. Entries will be added to this page, most recent at the bottom, following the end of the month in which they were published. Archived entries from previous years can be accessed by clicking on one of the links at the bottom of this page.

January 15, 1897 - Fred Chism is taken from a farm near Lecompton, Kansas, leading to worries that he would be lynched in Missouri - Fredrick Douglas Chism(1) was born on November 29, 1866, in Versailles, Morgan County, Missouri, to General and Ann Chism. Considering when and where he was born, there is the strong possibility that both General and Ann had formerly been slaves. Fred, as he was known, grew up on a farm with his parents' in Morgan County. He became acquainted with Rachel Thouvenel(2), who had been born on October 16, 1878, in Benton County, the county directly west of Morgan County. Rachel, known as Rose or Rosa, was the daughter of Charles Nicolas Thouvenel, a Benton County farmer who had been born in Thiebaumenil, Meurthe et Moselle, France, and who had come to Benton County with his parent's when they immigrated to the United States. Although there was a twelve year difference in their ages, a relationship developed between Fred and Rose. She was later reported to have said "she had wanted to marry him ever since she was old enough." On November 10, 1895, the two ran off together. Rose's father took great offense at this and reported to the local authorities that Chism had abducted his 16-year old daughter. Complicating the whole matter was the fact that Chism was black and the Tourvenels were white. Fred and Rose made their way to Lawrence, Kansas. Why they went there is not known, but perhaps the reason was that forty years earlier, the town had been the headquarters of the Free State movement to bring Kansas into the Union as a state that did not allow slavery, and the two thought that their relationship would be accepted there. They had likely come to Lawrence by way of Sedalia, Missouri, as it was reported that Rose's father was looking for them there. Within a few days after their arrival in Lawrence, Chism went to work as a cook at the Central Hotel in town and Rose gave birth to a baby. On November 20th, Douglas County Sheriff Bud Hindman received a telegram from George W. Laird, the Sheriff of Bates County, asking him to arrest Chism on a charge of kidnapping, and offered him a reward from Rose's father for doing so. Hindman showed the note to Lawrence Police officer Sam Jeans, who told him that Chism was indeed in town. Hindman, Jean, and James H. Monroe, another police officer, arrested Chism around 7:00 p.m. that evening. Chism expressed fear for his life if he was sent back to Missouri. Rose was also put in jail. On reporting the incident, a newspaper article titled "Miscegenation" described Chism as "a burley fellow and no one ever would suspect that he could win the affections of a white girl." Rose was described as "simple", and that "She certainly could not be called bright." Although they had previously told people that they were married, the following day Chism requested of the Sheriff that they be allowed to get a license and get married. Without notice to anyone, Chism was then taken out of the jail and driven the fourteen or so miles to Lecompton, Kansas, put on a train and taken to Topeka, where he was held in the Shawnee County Jail for some hours in the custody of Sheriff D.N. Burge. Meanwhile, Francis M. McHale, a local Lawrence attorney, was in the process of preparing the paperwork of a writ of habeas corpus for Chism. When he went to the jail to get the prisoner to sign it, he found he was not there. Apparently, Sheriff Hindman had moved Chism to avoid the possibility of such a thing occurring. The Lawrence Daily World printed a short article on November 23rd, poking fun at both McHale and Hindman that read "Frank McHale lost $20 by having Chism taken away[,] but if Mc had got him out of trouble the sheriff would have lost $100." Chism was transferred from Topeka to Ottawa, county seat of Franklin County, Kansas, and put in the custody of Sheriff J.A. Elwell there. An unsubstantiated report surfaced that Chism's brother had been killed for helping the couple run off by rowing them across the river, and this added to a growing concern in the black communities in Lawrence and Topeka for Chism's fate if he was taken back to Missouri. Sheriff Laird had come to Topeka, asking Kansas Governor Edmund N. Morrill to honor his requisition papers for custody of Chism. There had been a protest by members of the black community against sending him back, and the governor met with a delegation of them and Sheriff Laird to review the matter. One of the items considered was a telegram, purportedly from Benton County, indicating that 400 people had assembled in Warsaw, Missouri, the county seat of Benton County, to meet Laird on his return, with the avowed purpose of lynching Chism. On the 25th, a writ of habeas corpus was directed to Sheriff Elwell in Franklin County, but he replied that no such person was or had been in his custody. It is not known if this was before Chism had arrived in Ottawa, and therefore the sheriff was being truthful, or if he was there at the time, and the sheriff was not being truthful. A lawyer from Topeka came to Lawrence proposing to "make a hard fight" for Chism once he was able to get an action on the case, and Rose, who had been released from jail in Lawrence, had traveled to Topeka to protest sending her lover and the father of her child back to where, in her judgment, he would be killed. On the morning of the 26th, Governor Morrill refused to issue the requisition from Sheriff Laird because he found the certificate accompanying it was irregular. Sheriff Laird went back to Missouri to get it corrected. The newspaper observed that twice before in the history of Kansas, requisition papers had been refused "…when it was shown that to take the accused back to the southern states meant simply death." On the Morning of the 27th, a writ of habeas corpus was issued from the District Court to Sheriff Hindman for him to bring Chism to court on Friday the 29th. The Sheriff was out of the county summoning witnesses on another case, and supposedly did not know about the furor that was happening over Chism. A writ was also issued to Sheriff Laird from Benton County, who had returned to Topeka, but he said he did not have Chism in his custody. However, he expected to have the proper requisition papers by the time the writ could be heard in Douglas County, and he planned to press for Chism's rearrest if he were to be released. If he was rearrested, Chism's supporters planned to file a writ with the Kansas Supreme Court. The newspaper noted "A desperate fight will be made for the purpose of preventing the return of Chism to Missouri. The colored people contend that they are not fighting to defend a man charged with a crime but to prevent his lynching." It went on to report that "eastern newspapers have numerous dispatches from Missouri stating that Chism is surely to be killed if brought back to Missouri and this has wrought up the colored people." On the morning of November 28th, Sheriff Hindman returned Chism to Lawrence "from the south," presumably from the Franklin County Jail in Ottawa. The habeas corpus proceedings took place in Lawrence on the morning of the 29th before Judge Alfred W. Benson. It was determined that Sheriff Hindman did not have a warrant for the arrest of Chism, but had arrested him on word from Benton County that he was wanted for a crime committed there. Judge Benson immediately ordered Chism's release from custody. Sheriff Elwell of Franklin County requested the arrest of Chism, and immediately after that, a new habeas corpus writ was filed, to be considered that afternoon. While this was going on, Chism and Rose went across the hall to the office of Probate Judge John Q.A. Norton. Judge Norton issued a marriage license to the couple, and they were married there in his office by Shelby Henderson, a "Minister of the Gospel." When the habeas case was taken up again around 1:30 that afternoon, Judge Benson continued it for a day pending an investigation of the evidence provided. Sheriff Laird arrived back in Topeka that same day with corrected requisition papers for Chism from Missouri Governor Stone that he intended to present to Governor Morrill the next day. He also brought a number of affidavits from people in and around Warsaw that asserted there was no danger of Chism being lynched upon his returned there. That evening, a large group of people, "armed with shotguns and clubs" marched through the streets of Lawrence to the jail where Chism was being held and surrounded it, determined to guard against any attempts to take him away. The newspaper referred to the group as a mob, and decried it as a disgrace to the town. Apparently the black citizens of Lawrence had longer memories than the author of the newspaper article, because they undoubtedly took this action to ensure that there was no recurrence of what happened on June 10, 1882, when a mob broke into the jail in Lawrence, took out three black men who were being held there, and lynched them from the Kansas River bridge(3), something that had truly been a disgrace to the town. When Judge Benson's court resumed on the 30th, a black attorney from Topeka named A.M. Thomas, presumable the lawyer referred to earlier as intending to "make a hard fight" for Chism, had a run-in with the judge. He was reported to have repeatedly asked for the court to demand the presence of Sheriff Laird in the hearing. Judge Benson supposedly said he had no right to try the case at that time as the warrant from Sheriff Laird was sworn to a Franklin County justice. Thomas was reported to have said he could show some underhanded work by the officers involved. Judge Benson set the case for a hearing on Wednesday, December 4th. Sheriff Laird presented his documents to Governor Merrill, but the Governor refused to honor the requisition from Governor Stone, and the Sheriff went back to Missouri disgusted with the Kansas authorities. Rose's father came to Lawrence to try to persuade his daughter to come home to Missouri. Sheriff Laird was quoted as saying that Rose was so infatuated with her husband that the visit would be fruitless. He was wrong, as Rose agreed to go back home with her father under the condition that charges of abduction against Chism were to be dropped. Thouvenel complied with his daughter's wishes, and sent telegrams to Benton County and Topeka asking that charges against Chism be dropped. Subpoenas were issued for Rose and her father to appear in Lawrence on the 4th, but they were probably never served. As they passed through Kansas City on the way home, Rose left her baby with the matron of a police station there, who promised to see to it that it was provided with a good home. They arrived in Sedalia, Missouri, on December 3rd. That afternoon, Sheriff Hindman received a telegram from Warsaw stating that the case against Chism had been dismissed. Chism was brought up before Judge Benson again the next day, December 4th, and the judge found that "the papers in the case were regular," and that he must stand trial in Ottawa, the county seat of Franklin County. Later that day, a telegram was received from the authorities in Ottawa that the proceedings against Chism were being dismissed without requiring the formality of bringing him back to Ottawa from Lawrence. Chism was immediately released from jail. Sheriff Hindman came under attack from the Kansas State Ledger, which implied he was crooked, accusing him of having moved Chism to Ottawa where he would get more sympathizers. After his release, Chism went to work on a farm near Lecompton, Kansas. On October 29, 1896, Chism filed a $15,000 damage claim in the district court against D.N. Burge, former sheriff of Shawnee County, C.D. Watson, former deputy sheriff of Shawnee County, L.W. Hindman, former sheriff of Douglas County, and J.A. Elwell, Sheriff of Franklin County, for false imprisonment. He contended that as there was no warrant issued against him when he was arrested in November of 1895, the motivation for the arrest was the promise of a reward, and that the officers named in the suite had conspired to earn the money. He asserted that "he was moved rapidly from place to place mostly at night and in a very secretive manner" in order to keep his friends from getting him released on a habeas corpus writ. He claimed mental and physical anguish, and damage to his health and reputation. In the November 3, 1896 election, John W. Leedy was elected as the new governor of Kansas. He took office on January 11, 1897, replacing Edmund Morrill, the man who had denied Chism's extradition to Missouri. Four days later, on the 15th, four men in a wagon came to the Emery farm near Lecompton where Chism worked and demanded that he come with them. He refused, and the men went on to Lecompton. Towards evening, they returned to the farm and read aloud what they said was a warrant for his arrest. Chism reluctantly went with them. It was reported in the newspaper that the men said that he was an escaped convict from the Missouri penitentiary. On the 18th, Sheriff Laird from Benton County presented to Governor Leedy a requisition for Chism signed by Missouri Governor Stevens. Leedy determined the papers were in order and signed permission for Laird to take Chism out of Kansas. Some of the black citizens of Topeka got wind of what was happening and tried to get it stopped but were too late. Laird quickly took Chism into Missouri. In the evening, Governor Leedy telephoned officials in Lawrence informing them that the requisition had been issued by him "under a misapprehension" and that if Chism was still in town that he should be held "at all hazards." They informed him that Chism had not been in Lawrence since before his arrest, and that it was too late. Exactly why the authorities in Missouri had chosen to go after Chism again, over a year after Thouvenel had requested he not be prosecuted, is not clear, but the Lawrence Daily World thought it knew when it observed, "These Missouri officers have long memories and consider it their religious duty to catch colored men when they can." There was great apprehension in Topeka and Lawrence that Chism was doomed. On the 19th, Governor Leedy sent Governor Stevens a telegram, stating that he understood that Fred Chism was threatened with violence in Benton County, and asked that he be protected. Stevens replied that he had notified the authorities in Warsaw to protect him "at all hazards." Chism received a preliminary trial in Warsaw during the second week of February. His attorneys were T.B. Wheeler and W.L.P. Burney(4), and it was reported that they presented no evidence, but made the state "show its hand." It was also reported that Chism had no money and his attorneys had not been paid a cent. Although he was bound over to the grand jury for $500, it appeared the case against him was not very strong. In mid-May, Chism's suit for damages against former Douglas County Sheriff Hindman, former Shawnee County Sheriff Burge, and current Franklin County Sheriff Elwell was dismissed due to lack of prosecution. Chism's abduction case went to trial the second week of August. It appears his lawyers argued that because Missouri had lowered the age of consent to 14 prior to Chism and Rose having run away together, he had violated no law, since being 16-years-old, she was free to do what she wanted without her father's permission. Whatever that argued, Chism was acquitted of all charges on August 18th. In September 1897, Chism went to Topeka and filed a new suit for damages against former sheriff Burge. The outcome of that suit is unknown. Chism decided to remain in Missouri, but despite this, his marriage to Rose did not last. The two divorced, and he married a black woman named Callie Callius on August 25, 1898, in Benton County. Four days later, Rose remarried, as sarcastically reported by the Sedalia Democrat, to "a blonde white man, as far away in complexion from the son of Ham as possible" who was named William Willhite. Fred and Callie Chism, along with Fred's father General, settled on a farm in Pettis County, the Missouri county immediately north of Benton County. Sometime before 1910, the Willhites moved to a farm in Kearny County, Kansas. The Chisms had at least three children, Walter, Julia, and Clara, and the five were still living together as a family in Pettis County as late as 1920. Charles Thouvenel died on January 30, 1922, and Rose and William eventually moved to King County, Washington. There is no evidence that they had children together. Chism later married another woman named Angeline, but what happened to Callie is not known. Fred Chism died in Appleton City, St. Clair County, Missouri, on November 5, 1940, of natural causes, and was buried in the Appleton City Cemetery. Rose died on November 9, 1958, in Washington, and was buried in Carnation Cemetery in King County.

(1) No documents have been found with the name Frederick, but a reference to the birth of a child record this as his first name. In addition, there is other circumstantial evidence that supports this. In some newspaper accounts his last name is incorrectly spelled "Chisholm".

(2) There is some confusion as to what her full name actually was. In a reference to the birth of her baby, her name is listed as Rachel Rosa Rosetta Thouvenel. Several census records have her name as Rachel R., while one has her as Rossetta [sp.]. Newspaper accounts refer to her as either Rose or Rosa. Rose and Rosa can both be nicknames of Rosetta, and having two middle names as similar as Rosa and Rosetta would be unusual but not unheard of. Baring more information, it is not possible to be completely certain as to her full name. In some newspaper accounts the family's last name is spelled "Thouvenal".

(3) See the This Month In Legal History article for June 2010 for the story of this dark day in Lawrence history.

(4) Burney was a graduate of the University of Kansas Law School.

(From: Fred D. Chism, Missouri Death Certificates, 1910 - 1963, Missouri Digital Heritage website; Chism, Fred D., 1900 U.S. Census, Lake Creek Township, Pettis County, Missouri, 6/18/1900; Chism, General, 1880 U.S. Census, Haw Creek Township, Morgan County, Missouri, 6/5/1880; Rachel Thouvenel Willhite, Find A Grave website; Charles Nicholas Thouvenel, Find A Grave website; Lawrence Daily Journal, v. 27, no. 278 (November 21, 1897) p. 4; Lawrence Daily World, v. 4, no. 229 (November 21, 1895), pp. 3, 4; Lawrence Daily World, v. 5, no. 211 (October 30, 1896), pp. 3; Lawrence Daily World, v. 4, no. 230 (November 22, 1895), p. 3; Lawrence Daily World, v. 4, no. 232 (November 25, 1895), p. 3; Lawrence Daily Journal, v. 27, no. 282 (November 26, 1897), p. 4; Lawrence Daily World, v. 4, no. 233 (November 26, 1895), p. 3; Lawrence Daily World, v. 4, no. 234 (November 27, 1895), p. 3; Lawrence Daily Journal, v. 27, no. 284 (November 28, 1895), p. 4; Lawrence Daily Journal, v. 27, no. 285 (November 29, 1895), p. 4; Lawrence Daily World, v. 4, no. 236 (November 29, 1895), p. 2; Douglas County, Kansas, Marriage Certificates; Lawrence Daily World, v. 4, no. 237 (November 30, 1895), pp. 3, 4; Lawrence Daily Journal, v. 27, no. 287 (December 2, 1897). p. 4; Lawrence Daily World, v. 4, no. 238 (December 2, 1895), p. 1; Lawrence Daily Journal, v. 27, no.288 (December 3, 1895), p. 4; Lawrence Daily Journal, v. 27, no.289 (December 4, 1895), p. 4; Lawrence Daily World, v. 4, no. 240 (December 4, 1895), pp. 1-3; Lawrence Daily World, v. 5, no. 279 (January 18, 1897), p. 3; Lawrence Daily World, v. 5, no. 280 (January 19, 1897), p. 3; Lawrence Daily World, v. 5, no. 281 (January 20, 1897), p. 2; Lawrence Daily Journal, v. 29, no. 39 (February 15, 1897), p. 4 Lawrence Daily Journal, v. 29, no. 119 (May 19, 1897), p. 4; Lawrence Daily Journal v. 29, no. 197 (August 18, 1897), p. 4; Lawrence Daily Journal, v. 29, no. 220 (September 14, 1897), p. 4; Benton County, Missouri Marriages, Book G (July 1897 to August 1901) Bride Index, USGenWeb Archives website; Sedalia Democrat (September 4, 1898), p. 1; Chism, Fred D., 1920 U.S. Census, Sedalia City, Sedalia Township, Pettis County, Missouri, 1/9/1920; Willhite, William, 1910 U.S. Census, Kendall Township, Kearny County, Kansas, 5/10/1910; Chism, Fred D., 1940 U.S. Census, Appleton City, Appleton Township, St. Clair County, Missouri, 4/29/40; and, Willhite, W.P., 1940 U.S. Census, Stillwater Precinct, King County, Washington, 5/4/1940. Published 1/15.)  Back to top of page

February 17, 1897 - The New England Emigrant Aid Company transfers its claim for the destruction of the Free State Hotel to the University of Kansas - On January 4, 1854, a bill to create the territories of Kansas and Nebraska was reported to the main body of the United States Senate. The bill, that came to be known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, had been introduced by the senior senator from Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas. There was a significant amount of pressure coming from proponents of slavery to end restrictions on slavery in new territories. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had set the line of latitude of the southern border of Missouri as the northern boundary for new slave states to form in the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase, and the proslavery powers were pushing to end this. Douglas knew he would need support from southern senators to get his bill passed, so he included the concept of "popular sovereignty" in it. Popular sovereignty meant that the residents of a territory could vote on whether it would come into the Union as a slave or free state, in effect, throwing out the Missouri Compromise. As the winter of 1854 turned to spring, the word out of Washington was that the bill would likely pass. Eastern abolitionists began to plan on how to respond to this dramatic change in the prospects for the future of slavery in the country. In April the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company was formed under the guidance of Eli Thayer of Worcester, Massachusetts. It was established as both a benevolent and moneymaking venture, and its initial aims were to secure reduced transportation fares to the west for Free State emigrants traveling in companies organized and directed by the company, to provide temporary accommodations for settlers, to build or buy steam saw and grist mills, and to establish a weekly newspaper in Kansas to act as the voice of the company. The company planned to make a profit on investments by purchasing the land upon which its hotels and mills stood, and when land values increased, sell for the benefit of the stockholders. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress and was signed into law by President Franklin Pierce on May 30, 1854. The first party of Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company settlers arrived at the future site of Lawrence, Kansas Territory, on August 1, 1854. That summer and fall, five other parties arrived bringing a total of around 450 settlers. In February 1855, a new charter of the company was written, changing the name of the company to the New England Emigrant Aid Company. The company established other towns in Kansas, but Lawrence became the headquarters of the Free State movement in the territory, and the focus of anti-abolitionist hatred from the proponents of slavery both in and outside Kansas. That spring, seven more company parties brought out another 800 Free State settlers. Work was begun on a hotel in Lawrence to house new settlers that arrived in town until houses could be built for them. George W. Hunt, who had lead one of the company's settler parties to Kansas, joined with another man to be the contractors for the building of the hotel, destined to be named the Free State. The hotel was also intended to serve as the headquarters for the New England Emigrant Aid Company in Kansas. It was a very substantial three-story structure made of stone. Proslavery partisans, including many territorial officials, accused it of being built as a fortress for the Free State men in Lawrence to illegally resist the lawful authorities. The Free State Hotel opened in April 1856, just before the violence between pro and antislavery factions in the territory, which had led to it becoming known as "Bleeding Kansas," dramatically escalated. In May, United States Marshal Israel B. Donaldson(1) was issued warrants for the arrest of several Lawrence residents for their supposed activities against the government. He began to assemble a posse of proslavery men to help him inforce the warrant. They camped a few miles west of the town while the men assembled. On the morning of May 21, 1856, the proslavery posse ate breakfast, and then was drawn up into a hollow square formation. Marshal Donaldson was introduced, and gave his orders for the day to his men, to march into Lawrence and enforce his warrants. Next to speak was David Rice Atchison. Atchison was a United States Senator for Missouri. He had served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate for six years, and had requested that Senator Stephen Douglas introduce the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Atchison was strongly in favor of Kansas becoming as slave state, and bitterly opposed the Free State men in Lawrence. He made a fiery speech to the assembled proslavery posse, excoriating the town, and telling the posse to crush out "the last sign of damned abolitionism in the territory of Kansas." Donaldson then led the posse into Lawrence, took over the town, and began serving his warrants. When he was finished, the Marshal left Lawrence. The proslavery sheriff of Douglas County, Sam Jones, took command of the proslavery posse. Jones had had several previous run-ins with citizens of Lawrence, and blamed the town for the attempt on his life when he had been shot there by an unknown gunman the month before. Jones claimed that he was a deputy United States marshal and had a warrant from the federal court in the territory to suppress what he said was an insurrection against the government. He led the posse as they proceeded to sack and burn the town. They had brought a cannon with them, and they fired several rounds at the Free State Hotel. It was so well built that the shot did little structural damage, but instead only knocked off pieces of the stone exterior. One piece of the stone landed on a proslavery man and killed him. They gave up trying to destroy the hotel with the cannon and instead lit it on fire. The hotel was gutted, leaving only smoking ruins of the stone walls standing when the proslavery posse left town. The violence in the territory continued to be intense for the rest of the summer of 1856, but slowly decreased in later years as the Free State cause became ascendant, with Kansas being admitted to the Union as a Free State on January 29, 1861. The following year, the stockholders of the New England Emigrant Aid Company ordered that all of its properties in Kansas and Missouri be sold. When this was completed, the company realized sufficient funds to just about pay its outstanding debts. Early on, the stockholders had been advised to not invest more money than they could afford to lose, so despite the lack of a profit, they were pleased with the results of its operations. After Kansas became a state, the company transferred its activities to other areas. In 1864 and 1865 it promoted the migration of working women to Oregon, and from 1866 to 1868 it was active in bringing Northerners to Florida. By 1870, the company had ceased activities, and held no more stockholders' meetings until 1897, when it requested and was granted an extension to its charter. On February 17, 1897, the stockholders transferred to the University of Kansas its only asset, a claim against the United States government for the loss of the Free State Hotel when it was destroyed on May 21, 1856. The University filed a claim with the United States Court of Claims in 1903 seeking damages for the loss. On January 28, 1907, the court denied the claim, finding that when Sheriff Jones and his posse destroyed the hotel, "it does not appear that the said Sheriff had any official connection with the United States." It was true, the court said, that Jones had announced that he was a deputy United States marshal, that he was acting under an order of the "United States Court for Douglas County," and that he had a writ from the court, but all those announcements were untrue. Less than a month later, on February 19, 1907, the extended charter for the New England Emigrant Aid Company expired, and the company ceased to exist. Not satisfied with the ruling from the claims court, the University continued to seek legislative relief for their claim off and on until 1934, when it finally abandoned the effort.

(1) There is a question about the spelling of the Marshal's last name. Although most if not all secondary sources that discuss the Marshal's activities in Kansas spell his name as "Donaldson", there is strong evidence that he may have spelled it "Donalson". Not having access to any primary material that was signed by him limits the ability to determine which spelling is correct, so in effect, the two spellings of the Marshal's name are interchangeable.

(From: Kansas-Nebraska Act, Wikipedia website; New England Emigrant Aid Company Papers , Kansas Historical Society website; Proceedings of the Fitchburg Historical Society and Papers Relating to the History of the Town Read by Some of the Members, Volume II, Fitchburg, Mass., The Historical Society, 1897, pp. 290-292; Massachusetts Street: Monuments and Milestones, The Eldridge Hotel, Watkins Museum of History website; Speech, David R. Atchison to Pro-Slavery "Soldiers", May 21, 1856, Territorial Kansas On-Line website; The University of Kansas and the Sack of Lawrence: A Problem of Intellectual Honesty, by C. S. Griffin, Kansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 1968 (Vol. XXXIV. No. 4), pp. 409-426; and, Letter from the assistant clerk of the court of claims transmitting a copy of the findings of the court in the case of the regents of the University of Kansas against the United States, 59th Congress, 2nd Session, Senate, Document 274, Unites States Congressional Serial Set, Issue 5072, [pp. 75-80]. Published 2/15.)  Back to top of page

March 9, 1859 - Samuel Dexter Lecompte leaves his position as the first chief justice of the Kansas Territorial Supreme Court - Samuel Dexter Lecompte(1) was born in Dorchester County, Maryland, on December 13, 1814, the eldest child of Samuel D. Lecompte and Araminta Lecompte, née Frazier. Both his parents had previously been married and widowed, so in addition to three younger sisters, the junior Samuel had two half-brothers and two half-sisters, all older than he was. He attended Kenyan College in Gambier, Ohio, for two years, and then transferred to Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, graduating with honors from there in 1834. After graduation, Lecompte settled in Cambridge, Maryland, where he studied law. On September 7, 1837, he was admitted to the bar, and set up a practice in Carroll County, Maryland. In 1840, Lecompte ran for the State Legislature, and was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. He took office in January 1841. Later that year, on April 28, 1841, he married Camilla Anderson of Baltimore, Maryland, who was about 19 years old at the time. Sometime in 1842, a son, Samuel E., was born to the couple. Lecompte served only one term in the legislature, leaving office in 1843. A second child was born later that year, and in 1844, Lecompte moved his growing family back to Cambridge. While living in Cambridge, Camilla gave birth to eight more children, most of whom died in infancy. In 1850, Lecompte ran as the Democratic Party candidate for the United States Congress, but was defeated. The family moved to Baltimore in 1854, where Lecompte continued to practice law and be an active member of the Democratic Party. As such, he was known to be a supporter of the institution of slavery. On May 30, 1854, President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, opening up the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase to white settlement. The Territory of Kansas was directly west of the slave state of Missouri, and was to quickly become a battleground over the issue of slavery in the United States. One of the provisions in the Act was that the issue over whether slavery would be allowed in Kansas would be open to a vote of the residents. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had set the line of latitude of the southern border of Missouri to be the northern boundary for any new slave state to form west of there, so under it, Kansas should have been a state without slavery. The Kansas-Nebraska Act threw out that boundary, and in so doing, set the stage for what was to become a bloody conflict between Free State and proslavery supporters in the Territory. Men on both sides of the issue poured into Kansas, and violence erupted. President Pierce began naming men to fill governmental positions in the new territory, and he decided to name Lecompte to be the first chief justice of the Kansas Territorial Supreme Court(2). The reasons for that appointment are obscure, but the fact that Pierce was a Democrat and Lecompte was active in the Democratic Party undoubtedly had something to do with it. In early December 1854, Lecompte, his wife Camilla, their surviving children(3), and "two negro women"(4) arrived in Kansas. After arriving in Kansas, Justice Lecompte began his duties as Chief Justice. He and the other two justices on the Supreme Court also served as district court judges. Lecompte was appointed district judge of the First Judicial District of Kansas. That district consisted of all the counties north of the Kaw, or Kansas, River and south of the Nebraska border. Soon, Douglas County was added to the district. Douglas County was the location of the town of Lawrence, the headquarters of the Free State movement in Kansas, which was hated by many proslavery men. Lecompte rode circuit throughout the First District, hearing many cases involving clashes between Free State and proslavery men. Many of his decisions and actions became notorious to the Free State men in the Territory, who claimed that Justice Lecompte was allowing his support of slavery to influence his decisions and so favor the proslavery faction in Kansas. He was reported to have answered this with, "To the charge of a pro-slavery bias, I am proud, too, of this. I am the steady friend of Southern rights under the constitution of the United States. I have been reared where slavery was recognized by the constitution of my state. I love the institution as entwining itself around all my early and late associations." The March 30, 1855, election for the territorial legislature witnessed thousands of proslavery men from Missouri crossing into Kansas, taking over polling stations, many times preventing Free State men from voting, but voting themselves. When the ballots were counted, out of the approximately 2,700 legal residents of Kansas, there were nearly 6,000 votes cast. The Free State men cried "foul", but eventually the proslavery men were allowed to form the legislature, and began passing laws to make Kansas a slave territory. That "Bogus Legislature," as it was known to the Free State men, received significant support from the decisions that Justice Lecompte made from the bench. Because of his support of their cause, proslavery men in the town of Bald Eagle in northwest Douglas County, Kansas Territory, renamed their home Lecompton in his honor. The first session of the Territorial Supreme Court was July 30, 1855, at the Shawnee Manual Labor School. The Territorial Legislature had been meeting there, but soon after adjourned to the newly renamed Lecompton, which became the headquarters of the proslavery movement as well as the Territorial Capital. Many of the seemingly proslavery decisions from Justice Lecompte continued to anger the Free State men, and pressure was put on the Federal Government to get him out of office. In December 1856, President Pierce appointed James O. Harrison to replace Lecompte. Whether this was because of pressure from Free State supporters, because the summer of 1856 in Kansas had been the most violent and bloody time in recent United States history, because Lecompte had clashed over policy with then Territorial Governor of Kansas John W. Geary, because of internal Democratic Party politics, or from some other reason is unclear, but whatever the reasons, it became a moot point when the Congress refused to confirm Harrison, leaving Justice Lecompte still in office. The tide began to turn against the proslavery cause in Kansas, and a Free State dominated Territorial Legislature was elected in 1857. Sometime in 1858, Justice Lecompte's wife Camilla delivered a son, who they named James. By 1859, it was becoming apparent that Kansas would come into the Union as a Free State, but considering the opposition from slavery's supporters in Congress, when it would was unclear to everyone. On March 9, 1859, Justice Lecompte retired from the Kansas Territorial Supreme Court. During his tenure on the court, he speculated in real estate and railroads. He was president of the Lecompton Town Company, and for a time actively promoted it to eventually become the state capital when Kansas was admitted to the Union. He sponsored a charter for a medical college to be located in Lecompton, and promoted the establishment of a state university in Leavenworth, Kansas. He was involved in the incorporation of three railroads, the Kansas Central Railroad Company; the Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad Company; and the Leavenworth and Lecompton Railroad Company. After his retirement from the court, Lecompte moved his family to Delaware City, a town in Leavenworth County, Kansas Territory, south of the town of Leavenworth. He soon opened a law office in Leavenworth. On the night of December 4, 1860, Lecompte's 19 year-old son Samuel fell over what was described as "a steep embankment, 30 or 40 feet deep," and was so severely injured that he died around 8:00 a.m. the next morning, leaving three children surviving in the family. At the end of the Civil War, Lecompte renounced his allegiance to slavery and the Democratic Party, and joined the Republican Party. He served as probate judge for four years in Leavenworth County and was elected to the state legislature for the 1867 and 1868 sessions. He was named Poet Laureate of the Kansas Legislature and wrote a satirical poem containing comments about each legislator. Lecompte's earlier support of slavery and his actions on the bench in the 1850s continued to cause him problems. A newspaper controversy prompted him to write a defense of his actions, which was published on February 4, 1875, as "A Defense by Samuel D. Lecompte" in the Weekly Kansas Chief. That same year, he was elected chairman of the First District Republican Congressional Committee. On October 22, 1877, Lecompte's wife Camilla died in Leavenworth. In 1887, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to live with his son James, and died there on April 24, 1888. Lecompte is still strongly associated with the proslavery cause in Kansas, and his memory is tarnished with what many believe was an unfair bias.

(1) In some sources the name is spelled LeCompte.

(2) There is some confusion as to when Lecompte actually took office. In Reports of Cases Determined in the Supreme Court of the Territory of Kansas, published in 1870 by James McCahon, it is reported that his commission began on June 11, 1854, while a footnote on page 389 of the Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, Vol. 8, 1903-1904, published in 1904, reports that he held the position from October 3, 1854. The two dates might record different stages in his becoming a justice, or one of them could just be incorrect. It is also possible that the October date is when the family left Maryland bound for Kansas. Determining which of these possibilities is correct will need to wait on additions sources of information coming to light.

(3) The date may be suspect, as it comes from a source that may have incorrectly reported the date that Lecompte assumed office, but until additional sources of information become available, this is the best estimation of when Lecompte arrived in Kansas Territory. Several sources note that he and his wife brought five children with them to Kansas Territory. The 1860 U.S. Census for Leavenworth County, Kansas Territory does indeed list five children, but while the four oldest were recorded as being born in Maryland, the youngest, two-year-old James, is recorded as being born in Kansas. It is therefore probable that the Lecompte family had only four children when they came to Kansas in 1854, and that the sources confuse the fact that the fifth one was born after the family had been living in Kansas. The four who came in 1854 were Samuel E., Eugene D., Edward, and Camilla.

(4) It is not recorded as to whether the women were free servants or slaves, but considering the fact that Maryland was a state that allowed slavery, and that Lecompte was a known supporter of the institution, it is likely that they were enslaved. There is also a question as to whether both of the servants were women. The 1860 U.S. Census for Leavenworth County, Kansas Territory, records two blacks in Lecompte's household. One is 65 year-old John Phillips, a laborer, and the other is a 60 year-old female cook whose name is apparently spelled "Mentary." Both are recorded as being born in Maryland. Whether these are the two "women" who came from Maryland with the family is unknown.

(From: Samuel Dexter Lecompte, 1814-1888, Territorial Kansas website; In Judge Lecompte's Court, by M.H. Hoeflich, University of Kansas Law Review, June, 2014, pp. 1169-1225; Reports of Cases Determined in the Supreme Court of the Territory of Kansas, by James McCahon, Chicago, Callaghan & Cockcroft, 1870, vi-x; A Defense by Samuel D. Lecompte, Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1903-1904: Together With …, Vol. VIII, Topeka, Geo. A Clark, State Printer, 1904, pp. 389-405; Judge Samuel Dexter LeCompte, LeComptes of Castle Haven,, Sketches of Some Famous LeComptes, lecompte.net website; History of Western Maryland: Being a History of Frederick, Montgomery, Carroll, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties from the Earliest Period to the Present Day; Including Biographical Sketches of Their Representative Men, Vol.2, p. 816; Samuel D. Lecompte, 1860 U.S. Census, Delaware Township, Leavenworth County, Kansas Territory, 8/21/1860; History of the Kansas Appellate Courts, Kansas Judicial Branch website; Letter, J. [John] W. Whitfield to Dear [John A.] Halderman, by Whitfield, John W. (Wilkins), February 1, 1857, Territorial Kansas Online website; Delaware City and Township, William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas, Leavenworth County, Part 32; and, The Easton Gazette [Easton, Maryland], Vol. 43, no. 51, (December 29, 1860), p. 2. Published 3/15.)  Back to top of page

© 2015, by the Michael J. Malone Douglas County Law Library. All rights reserved.

Archived entries from previous years


For more information, contact the Law Library at: info@douglascolawlibrary.org.

Comments to: Webmaster: Kerry Altenbernd, Law Librarian, Michael J. Malone Douglas County Law Library, Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 East 11th Street, Lawrence, KS  66044.

Valid HTML 4.01!

Created: March 4, 2008; Revised: April 7, 2015